Members of the West Mount Airy Neighbors (WMAN) community association took a tour to the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington DC this Sunday. Approximately forty people packed a charter bus for the 3 hour ride to the memorial site. The trip was the first event under the leadership of Marilyn H. Cohen, who took over as WMAN’s new executive director in October.
Sharon Katz and Wendy Khethiwe Quick of the musical group Peace Train from South Africa were also present and entertained everyone on board with acoustic renditions of “We Shall Overcome” and “This Little Light Of Mine”. Quick quizzed the tour group, particularly the children, with trivia about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Recordings of King’s “I Have A Dream” and “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” speeches were a highlight during the journey.
For three Mt. Airy neighbors, the trip had a special significance. It was a true pilgrimage for Crystal Grice, Cappie Lane and Kittura Dior who are nieces of the late C. Delores Tucker, a West Mt. Airy resident, politician and civil rights leader who marched with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama. Dior called the memorial to King “well-deserved.”
The Memorial opened in late summer
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial opened to the public in August 2011 and is located at 1964 Independence Ave., SW in Washington DC, referencing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The memorial includes three granite sculptural pieces – two which serve as a symbolic “Mountain of Despair” which visitors walk through towards a third “Stone of Hope” centerpiece featuring a sculpted relief of King. The sculptor is Lei Yixin of the People’s Republic of China. The memorial site also features a 450-foot crescent -shaped inscription wall with quotes from King’s speeches. It is the first monument to an African-American on the National Mall.
Mt. Airy resident, Jerome Thomas who came with his son, Kareem, remarked that having grown up during the Civil Rights era he “would have never thought” it possible to see such a monument to Dr. King. “We have come a long way,” Thomas emphasized. Kittura Dior echoed that sentiment and found the experience both “moving” and “inspirational after knowing all of the history”.
Cohen, whose community organization efforts include two decades in South Africa working with Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, plans to lead WMAN on future outings “where we spend some time together as neighbors” in hopes of Mt. Airy residents getting to know one another better “and be enriched by that knowledge as well.” She mentioned the National September 11 Memorial and Statue Of Liberty as potential destinations, eagerly welcoming suggestions from residents.
WMAN’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial excursion proved to be an enormous success. The tour was “one of the better trips I’ve been on in a long, long time,” exclaimed Jerome Thomas. For young Kareem Thomas the experience was summed up in just one word, “Wow!”
Mt. Airy is recognized one the most successfully integrated neighborhoods in America. In the 1950’s and 60’s the community resisted panic-selling as blacks began to move into the neighborhood. WMAN is one of the organizations that emerged from that effort to promote community stability and diversity.